Over the past several days, SAANYS and other educational leaders have met with the governor’s office, Commissioner of Education Rosa, and Commissioner of Health Bassett to develop guidance around the issues of masking in schools. The governor and educational leaders were on a path for determining such guidance after the conclusion of winter break and after seeing health data for that period. This path forward was impacted by the CDC releasing new guidance last Friday, February 25. Since Friday, staff at SAANYS and members across the state have provided input or met with the above policy makers to develop guidance for the field. The NYS Department of Health issued such guidance late yesterday afternoon and distributed that guidance to school districts. The following are key highlights from the guidance. It is suggested that members read the guidance and FAQ in their entirety to fully understand the new metrics and guidance, which are substantial.
Removal of Mandated Masking in the School Setting
- Masking requirement ends on 3/2/22.
- Students and staff must wear masks on days 6-10 upon their return to school from having the COVID-19 infection.
- It is strongly recommended that regardless of vaccination status that masks be worn for 10 days after a known exposure.
- Masks are not required on school buses, however students and staff who are required to wear masks in school should do so on buses.
- In settings where masks are NOT worn, anyone within a 6-foot radius of an infected person should be considered exposed. This “zone of exposure” does not mean schools should rearrange the physical footprint or space students six feet apart.
- Exposed individuals, regardless of vaccination status, may remain in school by appropriately wearing a well-fitting mask and undergoing recommended testing.
Schools should notify affected school staff, students, and their parents/guardians, by either group or individual level contact tracing, when:
They were in the same room as an infected individual and exposed or potentially exposed (i.e., in the same classroom as an infected individual for longer than 15 minutes); if schools are employing group level contact tracing; or, they were identified as being exposed because they were a close contact of an infected individual if schools are employing individual level contact tracing.
An individual should test:
- Immediately when they were known to be exposed or potentially exposed to COVID-19.
- At least 5 days after the last date of exposure or potential exposure, regardless of vaccination status.
- Schools should track testing, including at-home testing, and may choose to prioritize or limit tracking to cases in which testing compliance is of the greatest importance.
- When schools become aware of failure to comply with recommended testing, then individuals who are not up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccination should stay home for 5 days after exposure.
NYSDOH also developed a corresponding FAQ to further explain the above. This document is succinct and helpful. Below please find two examples from the FAQ.
Q: When conducting classic contact tracing in a school, why do we have to use 6 feet as the measure of exposure rather than 3 feet?
Using 3 feet of distance to determine close contact was permissible when everyone wore a mask. The new guidance has been developed based on the assumption that most people will no longer be wearing masks in schools. In the school setting, when masks are not worn, the distance to determine whether an individual is “exposed” or a “close contact” in schools is 6 feet of distance. If the school is conducting classic contact tracing and both the infected student and the student(s) for whom exposure status is being determined were wearing well-fitting masks, then the distance to determine “close contact” may be 3 feet. There is nothing in the new guidance that would require a school to reconfigure its physical spaces to accommodate 6 feet of distance between students.
Q: If an exposed person is allowed to attend school, should they wear a mask?
Exposed individuals should mask in school and while in indoor public spaces for 10 days after exposure.
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